Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

An Athlete Who Gave Back to Students

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

An Athlete Who Gave Back to Students

Article excerpt

Currently, a lot of news space is given to former athletes who have ruined their lives and the lives of others after sports. It should be refreshing to read about an athlete of yesteryear who excelled here in sports and then left an even greater legacy to our city.

Ninety years ago this week, George Coleman Poage of the Milwaukee Athletic Club hurdled himself into Olympic history with four fine track performances in the St. Louis Olympic Games. Arguably the first black athlete to compete and win a medal in modern Olympic Games, he earned two-bronze medals in the 200-meter and 400-meter hurdles of the Third Olympiad.

Although our newspapers dutifully recorded his Olympic prowess in 1904, most didn't follow up on his later achievements.

The late Julia Davis was a student of George Poage at Charles Sumner High School with the class of 1909. For the 50th anniversary celebration of her class, she compiled a class history, "Down Memory Lane." In her book of recollections, this remarkable St. Louis educator, for whom one of our St. Louis libraries is named, gave us a closer look at the legendary Poage.

Born in Hannibal, Mo., he and his sister, Nell, were raised by their parents in LaCrosse, Wis. His father, James, died of tuberculousis when George was still a youngster.

His mother, Anna, stayed in LaCrosse to work for a wealthy railroadman. With the support of his mother and her employer, George and his sister were encouraged to learn, and they took advantage of the opportunities offered to them "to get the best education possible."

In high school he not only excelled in sports, he "did commendable solo work on the musical programs given by the school."

Furthermore, Davis recounted, "George was the first colored boy to enter high school in LaCrosse . . . (and) was the first colored boy to graduate from LaCrosse High School . . . now the Central High School." Poage graduated with second honors in his class of 25.

Afterward, he attended the University of Wisconsin, where he studied history, economics and languages. When he became a member of the track team, he set a number of university records. …

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